It was a weird night. Dreams that were more akin to nightmare bothered me until I woke, reaching for a comfort I failed to find as I slid out on the other side of sleep and the insistent clamouring of stories waiting to be told. I woke to the sun streaming in on the aching tension of muscles that seemed not to have relaxed and rested. I got up and walked the dog, and all the while the back of my mind was attempting to deal with the dreams that are supposed to be a processing of the day and of memory.

It is a strange thing, this ability of images to affect us. Whether it is the eternal cuteness of the kittens that pepper the internet that make us go Awww in spite of ourselves, the faded snapshot of a loved one, or an image called up in the mind, they have a very similar effect on our emotions to what we feel if confronted with the reality itself. Dreams linger with softness, nightmares cast shadows on the day and imagination paints a graphic novel of our lives that we revisit in memory.

A pleasant daydream or memory will leave you smiling, the face softened and relaxed, the heart lighter. The mechanisms of anxiety and fear also paint mental pictures. Not of the reality we know, but a cocktail of scenarios that might be and our bodies and emotions react accordingly. It can even change our physical perception so that the shadow on the wall or the face in the trees looks threateningly human as the adrenalin flows and the heart pumps harder.

Meditative practices create similar change; there are many types of meditation, some where the images are gently erased, some where they are built, explored and pondered. It is this latter type of guided journey we use in the Silent Eye. Recent studies have shown there can be an enduring physical effect from the practice of meditation on the brain, particularly the amygdala that regulates our response to emotion, leading to a greater emotional stability.

In a very real sense, these are examples of mind over matter. The mind itself can be the originator of a physical change, triggered by an emotional response that is directly linked to a mental image. We see it in action in our own lives every day in a thousand silent ways. We can see its effects illustrated in the lives of others too, where absolute confidence manifests as success, for example; in the sportsman with the will to win who visualises himself crossing the line, the businessman whose dream drives him forward, the artist whose vision materialises under his fingers in paint, marble, music or words.

It isn’t always that simple though when you are in the grip of depression, fear or anxiety. The mental images that hold our attention do not let us go that easily. ‘Positive thinking’ may be impossible, or just anathema when the day seems so bad that all you want to do is kick the metaphorical cat or curl up in a corner and hide… when all the mental images seem pathways into shadow.

Yet the techniques of creating these mental images have been marketed under many names, selling systems that go in search of happiness or material success, systems that purport to teach us something we already know how to do. Creating images… visualisation… daydreams… the key difference is the knack of the direction we give the images and the belief we place in the possibility of what we ‘imagine’. They obviously work for someone, says my cynical mind, some have made millions from selling these systems…

Many of the ‘new’ systems are akin to the creation of the magical persona, a technique taught for centuries, where a constructed personality is deliberately built with belief and intent, to enable one to act from the higher aspects of being. You could compare it, in some ways, to those gifted actors who become the role they play and make it believable, living the drama themselves rather than playing to an audience. And it works… it is no secret, nor should you be charged astronomical fees to learn how. As Henry Ford said, “Whether you think you can, or you think you can’t-you’re right.”

With this in mind, I shall busily continue constructing my daydreams of being once more able to explore the hidden places of these isles. There is too much living still to do to waste time sitting at a desk thinking, ‘if only’… when ‘what if?’ seems a far better place to begin. If nothing else changes, I will, at least, smile.

Points of Light

It is the start of the festive season again. The dark nights of winter allow the fairy lights and decorations to sparkle in every town and village and through the windows of homes up and down this little island. People, even those who already look harassed by the work, expense and extra busyness of December, smile at each other for no reason and offer greetings. It seems as if we somehow respond to the colour and light in the darkness in a way that transcends the everyday stresses of modern life… as if the inner child sees the wonder of the sparkling lights and understands their significance.

Midwinter celebrations have always been with us… long before Christianity came on the scene, mankind paused in the dark time of the year, looking to the rebirth of the light. The stories vary with time, place and faith; the Child of Light can wear many names, even the abstract name of enlightenment. But the story is always the same too… in the darkest of times, a light will shine.

Beyond the fairy lights, there is fear and uncertainty abroad in the world. Many feel powerless against the looming presence of darkness.  We worry for the future, for our children and grandchildren. Alone, we face a shadow that often seems too overwhelming for one small human being. Yet we should not need to stand alone; we are members of a single human family. Like any other family, we have our problems and they are often thrown into sharp relief at times when we should be coming together to celebrate. Sadly, just like any other family, some of those problems seem irreconcilable. All we can do in the face of such a problem is take responsibility for our own lives, do our best to be who we are and can be, and carry the light within.

Today, a small group of us will visit an ancient site where the movements of the sun were once observed as it sank into darkness. The site is bleak and exposed, looking out over a winter landscape, a perfect symbol for where many now feel that we stand. We, who come from different backgrounds, who hold differing beliefs and follow different paths, will come together there in a quiet visualisation.

Creative visualisation is taught by psychologists, self help groups and esoteric schools as a valuable tool for change. The subconscious mind sees no difference between the real and the imagined, only the conscious mind draws such distinctions. Nothing is created without it first being brought into being within the imagination and it is in the imagination that any change is born. Add the focus of conscious intent to that visualisation and it becomes a powerful creative act.

It is against the blackness of a midwinter midnight that the stars shine their brightest. As we stand on the hilltop, our little group will visualise ourselves as single points of light…part of a vast web of light that extends across the world. Each point of light shines from the heart of another living being, another soul. It is born of the love we give, it grows from compassion and empathy. We may not be able to change the world, but we can add our own light to the greater flame of hope and healing and allow it to change us, little by little, one by one.

We ask you to join us.